Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.

Match Made in Heaven

The fall gardening season is upon us in Florida and that means I’m ready to tackle tomatoes, figuratively speaking of course. You want to be gentle with these babies, careful. Unless you’re using one of those upside down bag “thingys” and then—all bets are off. From what I understand, you can’t kill the things when growing them in those contraptions!

But I’m an in-ground gardener, doing things the old-fashioned way. Now that it’s time to start my tomato sprouts it’s time to share a little secret, the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes.  Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

secrets to our tomatoes

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too. More

Tomato Fun for Tots

With two kids (and school garden full of them!) I’m always looking for good ways to engage kids in the garden.  Being that it’s August and HOT in Central Florida, our options are limited.  However, I’ve learned to get a head start on my growing season by starting seeds indoors.  Actually, on the patio.  (Not like it’s snowing or anything where they need the cozy comfort of my home interior.)  Without some type of cover, these babies will surely fry.

So perusing my many garden magazines and websites, I stumbled upon this gem of an idea.  Start your tomato sprouts in eggshells!  Why eggshells?  Have you not been reading my posts?  Eggshells are the secret to eliminating blossom-end rot!  Yep.  Along with a sprinkle of epsom salts, that is.  Together, these two ingredients make all the difference in the blooming beauty of your tomatoes.  Besides, it’s fun!  Who doesn’t love cracking eggshells and planting seeds in them?  Jiminy Cricket we’re talking craft heaven here!

To begin, is obvious:  secure a carton of eggs, preferably the cardboard kind.  Plastic and plants do not get along.  Ick.  Next, find someone to eat these 12 eggs so you can have the empty shells!  Note on egg cracking:  go easy and try to be break the egg along a center line around the egg.  You can do this by gently tapping the egg against the edge of a pan or dish, while rotating it around as you do so.  Once free of slippery goo–clean them before you do anything else.  No sense in getting salmonella.  You can’t garden from a hospital bed, so play it safe. Clean, rinse, dry.

Perfect.  Now you’re ready to fill your shells with dirt; rich organic dirt but be sure it’s light enough to drain well.  Soggy seeds do not germinate. And speaking of draining, poke a small hole in the bottom of your shell.  You can manage this with a safety-pin or paper clip.  Again, key word when dealing with eggshells is gentle.  Be gentle. 🙂

Now that you have your dirt in place, drop one or two seeds on top and lightly cover with dirt.  We always like to plant two seeds per plot because quite simply, all seeds don’t sprout.  And we wouldn’t want to waste these lovely eggshells, now would we?

After your seeds begin to sprout, you can transfer them to larger containers or directly into your garden, depending on where you garden.  Here in Central Florida, my sproutlings won’t see the garden until September.  Of course last year we were caught off guard by an early freeze but this year it won’t matter–my babies will be ready by end of November!  Starting now gives them a good four months to produce tomatoes before Jack Frost can get his hands on them.

Peanuts in Bloom

It’s that time again when the peanut blossoms take center stage.  Gorgeous and delicate, these sweet yellow beauties are the sign of good things to come.  Below the bright green leaves the spindly legs–better known as “pegs”–bend down in search of soft dirt whereby they bury themselves for the process of forming their peanuts. Like carrots, they prefer loose soil (makes it easier to reach down and form nice full shells).  At this point, you can mulch around their base, much like you do for your potatoes.

Hmmm….   Memories from last year’s crop drift into the forefront of my mind.  I love peanuts.  Not only because they’re easy to grow–low maintenance, partial to Florida’s heat and practically pest resistant–but because they remind me of my childhood.

My mother is a southern lady through and through (not to mention a diehard football fan) and every season she’d treat us to the smell of peanuts boiling stove top, immersed in a broth of ham hock and salt.  Yes, she’d ADD salt, despite my suggestion to the contrary.  Her mother was from south Georgia and I don’t believe these folks ever met a dish with too much salt.  Me?  Don’t care for the stuff.  Makes me retain water, a problem I’ve come to realize, that only worsens with age.

But I do enjoy growing them, boiling them and serving them up for the family during a Sunday afternoon ball game–or gobbling up the fruits of someone else’s labors during scalloping season! 🙂 

If you’ve never grown peanuts for yourself, you should.  Kids love peanut butter and it’s a recipe they’ll enjoy making at home, not to mention hubby may appreciate the boiled or roasted version–they mesh quite well with a frosty mug of sudsy beer.  When planting your peanuts, be sure to include rich organic compost and/or composted manure.  And throw in a hand-full of crushed eggshells.  These nuts really like the calcium kick!  These are Valencia peanuts which grow well here in Florida and are perfect for boiling.

About two months after bloom, lightly dig down around one of your plants to check their progress–you can use a fork to lift the pegs from the dirt.  A ripe peanut will feel firm, its outer shell somewhat dry and “papery.”  Once ready, gently pull entire plant from the soil, shake off the excess dirt and lay on a screen in the sun for 2-3 days before shelling.  to cure.  This is for the purpose of longer storage.  If you’re boiling your peanuts, you want them green.  Do not attempt to boil roasted peanuts.  They’ve already been cooked!

If you do plan to store your freshly harvested peanuts, place them in a warm dry location for about 2-3 weeks.  If you’re peanuts have already dried out and you get a craving for boiled peanuts, you’re in luck!  By soaking dried nuts for 24 hours you can “re-hydrate” them prior to the boiling process.  Check my recipe section for details.

Put an End to Blossom-End Rot

Finally!  The solution to blossom-end rot.  No longer will you have to suffer through unsightly spots.  No more will you find yourself spraying a problem that already exists.

Absolutely not.  We have discovered the secret.  Having endured the ugliness of blossom-end rot one too many times, I planted my tomatoes this spring with great care and foresight.  You know what I’m talking about.  After nurturing these tiny little beings from their tender beginnings, you refused to set them out in the harsh sun too soon. 

You watered and fed them on the patio waiting for that perfect opportunity, the moment they were ready to be hardened off.  Sounds so cruel when you put it that way but alas, it’s a fact of life.  Tomatoes want to be outside soaking in the full glory of Mother Nature’s sunshine.  But in transplanting them you must–absolutely must–include a dose of eggshells and Epsom salts

Yep. Because blossom-end rot is due to a calcium deficiency.  Magnesium too (I think) and these two ingredients are the secret weapon in the battle of blossom-end rot.  My tomatoes are here to prove it.  Just sprinkle a little bit of Epsom salts in the well around your plant, crumble in a few washed and dried eggshells and voila!  These babies were green and gorgeous as they developed and their skin remained this supple, smooth and unmarred all the way to maturity.

Sure we had other issues like cracking and worms, a few even “sun-dried” on the vine (I was busy on vacation) but we didn’t have blossom-end rot!  🙂  Lesson learned, mission accomplished. 

Of course, my compost tomatoes didn’t have this problem either, but I’ll be the first to admit:  I’m no match for Mother Nature when it comes to gardening.  She wins, no contest (though I do enjoy a good challenge).  The only other comment I have is regarding variety.  Now no offense, but this Pantano variety (mixed above with Romas) is not my favorite.  They’re horribly unattractive and thus unappealing to my palate.  Does that make me a bad person?

Besides, they were no where as easy to grow as my Romas.  And since my goal is sauce, I think I’ll stick with the Romas.  I also grew a San Marzano variety this spring, but they didn’t fare as well.  I think it was a water issue, as in, my sprinkler was malfunctioning (unbeknownst to me!).  Never good–especially with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing.

Live and learn.  And love those tomatoes!

Tomatoes, Eggshells and Epsom

I’ve decided to start my tomatoes, a little head start on the season, if you will.   Tomatoes, because I’m still reeling from the devastating loss of my gorgeous fall crop.  Nasty Jack Frost nipped them right before my eyes, days before they matured to peak perfection.  Bad Jack Frost.

But I will not be shaken from the garden.  My roots are grounded, my will is strong.  Granted the old man is still hanging around (blustering old fool), but I won’t be intimidated.  In fact, I will outsmart him!  I’ll start my tomatoes indoors, near a warm sunny window–where he can’t get to them.  We’ll laugh and we’ll frolic and we’ll watch the old blow hard scourge the landscape into a frightful state–while we’re snug and secure indoors.  My tomatoes soon will realize it’s safe to sprout, and will poke their tiny green heads from the soil, followed by their skinny little bodies.

And I will feed them eggshells.  The secret for beautiful, robust, blossom-end rot free tomatoes!  It’s the calcium, you see (in addition to even watering and good potting soil) that will set their fruits strong and sure.   Plus, for good measure, I’ll throw in some Epsom salt.  Read somewhere these were wise moves and I’m a wise woman!  I believe it has something to do with adding magnesium and sulfur to the soil.  Magnesium helps promote chlorophyll formation and sulfur helps activate plant proteins and enzymes needed for growth. 

Hmmm….  Very interesting.  I feel a lesson coming on (watch out students).  Elements found in the garden will be ones you never forget–not after the gardenfrisk is through with you!

Anyway, deep breath, back to my tomatoes.  They’re off to a good start.  Found a strange squash or cucumber sprouting in one seed cell (which was promptly removed).   Not sure how it ended up there, other than a case of mixing compost and potting soil.  Which can happen.  It’s busy around here come this time of year, what with seed saving and sprouting trays, compost buckets, potting soil, dog chasing, kid ruckus…I’m lucky I managed to save any seeds at all! 

My tomatoes and I are ready–let the spring games begin!  A tad early, but tomatoes are fussy.  They don’t like it too cold or too hot.  And while some of us may have forgotten what the summer heat feels like here in Central Florida, too busy heating their frost-nipped extremities, I have not.  Nor will I allow myself to believe the heat won’t really hit until July.  It froze twice in December, didn’t it?

Mother Nature and I are friends, but she does deserve a certain degree of my humble regard.  After all, she does reign queen when it comes to gardening.